Woman Looking at ReflectionGod has given us wonderful, powerful minds to think and reason with, and as long as we inform our minds properly, we will have discernment. “If you continue in My word,” said Jesus, “then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free” (John 8:31-32).  
          Our Lord was talking about spiritual freedom here, and He was saying that discipleship is more than intellectual assent. If we are a child of God, we won’t only have head knowledge, we are also going to live out what we know to be true: we are going to obey it.
          It is possible to know the truth and not obey it, but you can’t obey the truth without first having intellectual assent. Because you obviously won’t know what it is you are supposed to obey if you don’t first have the head knowledge! This is why we need to be diligent in studying God’s Word. It is how we become familiar with the truth intellectually. But studying it is only the beginning.
          We often speak of Bible reading as if, in itself, it is some great virtue. But there is no value in simply “reading” or “studying” the Bible unless we actually do something with the information we take in. It is only when we implement (i.e. “obey”) the things we have learned intellectually that the truth will begin to change us. That’s when the transformation happens that Jesus spoke of: the truth makes us free.
          God’s truth isn’t very complicated. It doesn’t take long for us to grasp it with our minds; what takes time and effort is internalizing it and applying it. This is the hard part of the Christian life. And perhaps this is why we are often not as deliberate about it as we should be.
          We have our fifteen minutes of Bible reading in the morning and listen to a sermon in the car on our commute home from work and tell ourselves we have been “spending time with God.” We may even have a list of Bible verses memorized. But how often do we give serious thought to what we read and hear? How often do we contemplate the practical meaning of the biblical principles we learn about?
          Studying the Bible, listening to pastors preach, and knowing Scripture by memory is pointless if the application is missing. “For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror; for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was” (James 1:23-24).
          Unless we act promptly after hearing or reading Scripture, we are likely to forget what God’s Word showed us we need to work on. And isn’t this, in fact, what happens a lot of the time? We get distracted before we get a chance to implement the truth in our lives and end up just like the man James talks about in these verses. We become like the man who looks in the mirror but walks away and does nothing to improve upon what he sees.
          Having stressed how not to live the Christian life, James then shows us what the fruitful Christian walk looks like in contrast: “But one who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer, this man will be blessed in what he does” (James 1:25).
          Note that nowhere in this passage (verses 23-25) does James say to simply “do”. Rather, he uses the word doer. To be a doer is to be someone who takes action consistently; your entire personality is characterized by the application of God’s truth. And the “liberty” James mentions in the last verse is the same liberty which Christ spoke of when He said that the truth would set us free. God’s law is a law of liberty because by obeying it we are liberated, more and more, from sin’s destructive presence in our lives. This is why, as James also points out, the person who obeys what he knows “will be blessed in what he does.”
          I can testify from my personal experience that this is true. Seeing Bible reading as another item on my to-do list, I used to study God’s Word much like I would any other book. Following a reading plan, I would be able to get through the Bible in a year, and in the process, I would learn and relearn many basic facts about Old and New Testament characters, places, narratives, even principles for Christian living. I was accumulating a lot of intellectual knowledge, but looking back I can see that it wasn’t doing a lot to help me grow spiritually.
          Today, I study God’s Word in a very different way. I read it much more slowly; in fact, there are days where I only go over a few verses. And then – instead of immediately rushing to another passage – I allow what I have read to simmer around in my brain for the rest of the day.
          I stay away from rigorous reading plans. Unlike before, I spend considerable time reflecting on and praying about what I read, and God is always faithful to give me opportunities to apply His Word to my life. Often, these opportunities come in the form of tests where the Holy Spirit powerfully brings to my mind something I have recently read in Scripture and then shows me how to implement it.
          I have learned to slow down; to savor and absorb God’s truth like a tasty, nourishing meal rather than gobble it down like cheap fast-food. And because I have become deliberate this way about acting on what God is showing me, it has made a huge difference in my life. My walk with the Lord is so much deeper and more intimate now since making the change. Using James’ terminology, I’m blessed in what I do.
          Again, head knowledge is critical because you need to know what to do in order to do it. Head knowledge is a prerequisite to obedience. Still, by itself, it is not adequate to change you. You must apply what you read to your life. That’s when the transformation happens. That’s when you are set free. That’s when the blessings come.